How we made $170,000 in 2 weeks with our side project: Our story of an unexpected Appsumo promotion

maxime berthelot
Dec 4, 2017 · 11 min read
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As we shared in our previous post, Tom and I started working on a side project called PixelMe a few months ago. After creating a landing page in Bali and attracting our first subscribers, we didn’t really know where we wanted to go with it. But we did know we wanted to have fun, build a sideline business with minimal effort, test out our own marketing strategies and potentially add a new revenue stream for the three of us.

Shortly after launching our solitary landing page, we were contacted by Appsumo to run a 14-day deal for their community. If you don’t know Appsumo, it’s essentially a group buying service for businesses. Aiming to level the playing field somewhat, it enables smaller players to afford enterprise-grade tools and software at a reduced price by leveraging the purchasing power of many. Every month, they promote eight tools to their community of more than 800,000 entrepreneurs and start-ups 😱. The only drawback is that they only offer lifetime memberships and deals, which might sound a little crazy at first, especially when you’re trying to build a product from scratch and get some recurring revenue.

Let me share the story of our experience with Appsumo and their community of Sumolings (a moniker given to all Appsumo subscribers).

The results of PixelMe’s Appsumo deal

We’ll start with the most interesting: the results of our 14-day Appsumo campaign!

As you can see below, Appsumo provides a fairly elementary partner dashboard.

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Three days into the promotion we decided to move the data into a spreadsheet, enabling us to extract some interesting data points:

  • We made 4,644 sales in 14 days

Yes, you read that correctly, $176K in 14 days with a side project that’s less than three months old! 🚀

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Because transparency is in our DNA, and it’s not super easy to find public data on SaaS businesses, we wanted to share our key data points and learnings with you:

  • Our refund rate (also known as ‘churn’) is currently 2.37%, which is pretty low (we expect this to rise slightly towards the end of the refund period)

These metrics were completely unexpected, but even more unexpected was the incredible response from the Appsumo community. Sumolings are a fantastic community of early adopters who are really trying to help us build a better tool. We had a large amount of insightful feedback from the community and are so grateful for this effort from them.

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OK, so now you have the bones of the story, let me go back and take you on the full PixelMe x Appsumo journey.

PixelMe before Appsumo

In a previous post we shared how we transitioned from a landing page to an actual MVP. We had our first MVP in July and first paying customer in August (as there was no billing option in our first MVP) 😬😇.

Just before Appsumo, in September, we had about 50 new signup users and ended up the month with six monthly paying customers, generating a MRR of US$205. We were pretty happy with this, ignoring those in the community who poked fun at these modest numbers 😜. It was enough to cover our monthly costs (servers mainly) and we got to know our first users, who have all been incredible in giving feedback on our fairly “ugly” MVP 😅.

At this time we were also using a live chat tool called Drift, which we highly recommend for gathering meaningful feedback from users. Thanks to Drift, in a regular month we chat with more than 50 visitors, collecting valuable feedback for refining our landing page and preparing us for the Appsumo promotion.

Launching on Appsumo

First contact with Appsumo

Tom added our first landing page to betalist to get some feedback from early adopters. Feedback was pretty positive, despite us not actually having a product yet 😇, and we believe this is how Jeff from Appsumo first spotted our app.

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Negotiation

It’s important to note that there is not a lot of room for negotiations with Appsumo 😀. They sell lifetime access to your product, for $39 or $49.

I know! At first we were a little taken aback, but when Jeff told us the average deal on Appsumo generates 2,000 sign ups, we were sold. We recognized this was an incredible opportunity to reach a large number of users, get valuable feedback on our product from exactly the right people, and generate a little cash flow for our hard work 😉.

We agreed on a $49 deal launching towards the end of September 2017. We updated the landing page with some products features, tweaked the deal a little (notably reducing the price from $49 to $39) and set about actually building our product!

Preparation for the launch

Of course, before embarking on any new project, a little due diligence is required to get the best out of it. We looked for feedback on earlier Appsumo deals and uncovered the following pearls of wisdom from the community:

  • Have a clean website that clearly describes your product’s value propositions

We went through many iterations of our FAQ page, finally taking the decision to install Intercom. We were seduced by the simplicity of integrating the Intercom live chat, drip campaign and page design of our new FAQ page. They currently have a startup package offering a 14-day free trial — which was exactly the time we needed to see if we would continue to use and pay for the service moving forward 😊 (So sorry Drift, we had to get rid of your awesome tool, which was not an easy decision to make 😬).

The launch (The story behind the 14 days of craziness)

Jeff advised us to prepare for the first day of the launch, particularly the day when the email would go out to more than 800,000 subscribers.

A typical Appsumo launch follows this process:

  • Day 1–6: Soft launch. Your deal features on the website but only to a certain portion of traffic.

Our campaign was originally scheduled to go live on October 2, but due to a delay, Jeff pushed the go live button on Thursday October 5 around 7pm CET. The Appsumo PixelMe page was live!

This was a truly unforgettable time for us, which we will probably never forget. I had literally just landed at Amsterdam airport, standing outside in the rain while Tom was bouldering, when the first users started to write comments on our Appsumo page. We also got messages on Intercom and through the Appsumo Facebook group 😱. This first evening, Tom & I were up til 1am replying to all the messages!

This is when the 14 crazy days started.

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We started to see some patterns in the questions that were coming in, and quickly prepared some Textexpander (If you don’t know this tool, I highly recommend you give it a try! Thanks Deb for the tip 😉). In doing so, we were able to significantly improve our response time to support requests.

We worked fairly frantically to update our own website, as well as the FAQ and Appsumo page in line with this feedback. We believe this preparation and quick turnaround on site improvements was absolutely crucial during the first few hours of our promotion. Intercom played a big part in helping decrease the amount of direct questions on the Appsumo page, and for the most part it was all positive feedback.

By the end of the first Friday, we had established four trends:

  • Plan limits were too small

For us, we saw it was absolutely essential to the success of the 14-day deal that we listened to this feedback and took quick action.

So we did four key things that changed everything:

  • We published a transparent roadmap, where users could vote for their most wanted feature. This helped create some trust between the Appsumo community and us

These changes made our users super happy and helped build even more trust between them and us. We attribute a large portion of the success of the deal, with such a young product, to this agility. 😊.

Over the next days, we received a lot less messages, questions and comments. It started to be easier to provide support. People were pretty happy 😀.During that time, thankfully Tom was supporting our users full time, and I was jumping in early in the morning and later in the evening to do my part.

On Wednesday Oct 11 at 10:00pm CT, Appsumo sent the first email to their community. It was 5am for us in Europe. Tom and I set our alarm clock to 4:45, had a cup of coffee and started to chat on slack, waiting for the fateful hour ☕️. As we didn’t really know what to expect, I took this day off work to make sure I could do a full day of supporting users. We made more than 1,000 sales this day (split out across October 10 and 11 in the Appsumo dashboard), and it was a fairly hectic day as you can imagine!

The recap email went out on Thursday Oct 19, at 5am for us again. We didn’t really set up anything special for this day, as we were not expecting a huge amount of sales or requests for support as we had worked so quickly to fine-tune the product in the first couple of days. We had very few conversations on this day and Tom was able to handle almost all of them by himself! Good job Tom! 💪

After the sales

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During the 14-day deal period, Tom and I had 963 conversations on Intercom, responded to more than 600 comments on our Appsumo page, plus a bunch of conversations in Facebook groups.

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Another important factor in our Appsumo launch success was the fact that we encountered zero bugs, despite ramping up weekly user numbers from 50 to 4,000 in such a short time. The minor number of issues we did come across were to do with user experience. But no bugs at all! 😱 Big 👏 to our engineer, he won the 🥇of the best developer in the world!

Summary

We ended up with 4,644 sales! Never in our wildest dreams did we expect to gain so many users, and we all had to catch up on some sleep before taking a deep dive into the success of the trial.

Once we had recovered and found a time to get together, we all agreed that the best takeaway from the trial was from the exposure for PixelMe. We’ve seen our weekly signup users go from 13 to 130!

The 14 days were super rewarding for us as a team and from a product management perspective. I feel we could have done better with anticipating some of the questions and providing a better user experience — however that’s all part of growing as a startup.

If you’re starting a product or side project with a micro SaaS product, I highly recommend you consider Appsumo as an option. It’s totally worth it ❤️.

Here are some of our other key takeaways:

  • Listen first, then listen more! This is one of our 10 Buffer values, I can’t think of a better situation for this value now. Honestly listening to what the community is telling you might be your best option

After all this, if you still think selling lifetime access to your app is a crazy idea, let me try to convince you one last time.

Appsumo users are seasoned negotiators, and they are the most incredible users ever. The feedback we collected in just a couple of days would have taken us months to get otherwise. They are awesome people, patient and super supportive. We’re really happy to have them using our product! Thanks all 🤗. We will keep doing our best to make you all happy!

Stay tuned for next month’s post when we’ll share even more of our data with you!

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